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Information Literacy: 08. What are Databases?

Strategies used to incorporate research skills for the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Management.

What are Databases Video

What is a library databases?

Learn what sort of information can be found through library databases and when to use them for research.

(CLIP video, length 6 minutes)


What Are Databases? And How Are They Useful?


Databases are organized collections of related info or data.  The collections usually cover specific field of study such as history, biology, music, or art.  Most databases consist of literature published in journals, magazines, or newspapers.  Some databases consist of data, image, or specialized information such as chemical reactions or genome sequences.

You can browse through Willamette's databases by academic units / subjects, or browse by document type.


You should look in a library database if you are:

  • Searching for articles in a magazine, newspaper or scholarly journal.
  • Conducting scholarly research, or research for an assignment.
  • Seeking information on a specific topic.
  • Required to locate a written work that has been peer reviewed or professionally edited.


Many library databases include the actual item so you can read the complete text of the article or book, data sets, or images.  The Internet and some library databases only include basic citation information which is info about articles, data, or images (such as the authors name, publication date, article or book title).

While the free web typically limits access to information, library database often checks for alternative ways to access an item.  As an added bonus, library databases will usually offer to get an item (through interlibrary loan) if it is not available through immediate electronic access or in print.  And you can do all of this while you are away from campus!


For many people, searching the Internet is the first stop for conducting any research.  While you can find a lot of useful info, not everything is freely available, nor is it reliable, since anyone can post a hoax while proclaiming that it is accurate.  Plus the Internet can quickly overwhelm you with an over abundance of information since full text searches cannot discern the context of how a word was actually used (idiomatic expression of "the big apple" versus Apple brand products).

- Tailored to specific subjects or audiences. - Research is much easier & it saves time.
- Peer-reviewed or reviewed by professional editors. - High quality info that is more reliable.
- Paid for by the library via subscriptions. - No out of pocket costs to access literature.
- Accessible both on- and off-campus. - 24/7 access from anywhere.
- Primarily collections of articles & reports. - They usually indicate the literature types.
- Covering specific time spans. - Quickly distinguish between historical versus current events.
- Showing subject headings assigned to each document. - Give you the ability to modify your search & increase precision of matching your needs.
- Offering clickable links by Author, by Subject, and by Publication. - Offers you quick access to horizontal searching for additional documents with similar search criteria.
- Citation based with abstracts. - You get a short summary of each document.
- Linked to the library's catalog. - Quickly check if the library owns a document or order it if we do not.